Maslenjak v. United States

Out of 7,000 – 8,000 petitions a year, the Supreme Court only hears about 80 cases. This year, an immigration case made its way to the highest court in the United States. Maslenjak v. United States concerns Divna Maslenjak (a Serbian woman) on one end and the US government on the other. On Thursday, June 22, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Maslenjak in a 9-0 vote. The facts are outlined below.

Divna Maslenjak:

  • She came to the United States as a refugee who fled persecution in Bosnia.
  • She claimed that she and her family were being persecuted by Muslims in her country and by the Serbs who were angry at her husband for refusing to join the Bosnian Serb Army.
  • After several years passed, Divna applied to be a US citizen and became naturalized as one.
  • In her citizenship application, she claimed that she never made a false statement in order to enter the United States.
  • It was later confirmed that her husband did, in fact, serve in the Bosnian Serb Army during the genocide of Muslims throughout Bosnia in the 1900s.

The United States:

  • The United States charged Divna with “procuring, contrary to law, [her] naturalization,” which means that they charged her for knowingly making a false statement while attempting to gain citizenship.

Before reaching the Supreme Court, the case started at a district court. The jury in that court could make a conviction based on whether Divna lied during the naturalization process. They indeed convicted her on the basis of this, and Divna was deported to Serbia after the jury returned a guilty verdict. As a result of this, the government took away her citizenship.

The case moved up to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and that court affirmed the prior verdict. In both courts, the US argued that a lie during the naturalization process warrants a conviction. This is the reason the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear the case. Their argument consists of the following:

  • On the basis of the United States’ argument, the Supreme Court stated that a lie could be broad enough to include a minor infraction such as a speeding ticket. The Supreme Court argued that this could give the government a dangerous scope of power and could make it simple for them to take away someone’s citizenship.
  • According to the government, a false statement made during the naturalization process—even as a result of embarrassment or fear—could be enough to convict someone and revoke his or her citizenship. The Supreme Court claimed that this argument does not suffice.
  • They held that the government has to prove that the defendant’s false statement was related to Divna gaining citizenship. In other words, the government has to make a connection between Divna’s false statement and her acquisition of citizenship. They simply cannot use a mere lie during the naturalization process to constitute a conviction. The lie has to be relevant.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will make it more difficult to convict somebody for lying during the process of obtaining US citizenship. This ruling adds more value to US citizenship because it prevents the government from taking away someone’s citizenship over minor infractions. This case was remanded for further consideration before a lower court.

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Sources:

  1. Reuters. "Justices weigh ethnic Serb woman's bid to regain U.S. citizenship." Business Insider. Business Insider, 26 Apr. 2017. Web. 30 June 2017.
  2. "Supreme Court sets higher bar for stripping citizenship." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 22 June 2017. Web. 30 June 2017.
  3. Maslenjak v. United States. Supreme Court of the United States. 22 June 2017. Print.

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